Roaring crowds and phenomenal play are attributes that catapult football’s European Championship into the limelight every year. It’s a fierce competition, which raises the stake for the players. Heart-thumping, fast-moving action from elite footballers is what draws fans from around the world to cheer on their favourites.
Throughout the years, the list of exceptional players continues to grow. Here is a glimpse at eight of the top European Championship participants in the history of the competition.
It’s hard to imagine a list of the best championship players without including Michel Platini. In 1984, Platini inspired the world with dynamic play during the Championship competition. His team won after he garnered top scorer and player recognition. A 2015 ethics ban for decisions Platini made as UEFA president does not wipe away his contributions to the sport, which are prolific. He is without a doubt one of the game’s best midfield players of all time. Supporting his teammates with dynamic passing, Platini’s success comes from his creativity and technical skills. His scoring game was top-notch also, a result of Platini’s distinctive free-kick technique.
Holding the record for the highest number of goals in the European Championship, Cristiano Ronaldo is possibly the greatest footballer of all time. Participating in more than 1000 career games, Ronaldo is the world’s most prolific scorer. His unparalleled play makes any team he joins better. As a result, Ronaldo is history’s first five-time title winner for the European Championship. His jumping ability and muscular physique help him to maintain ball control to perform technically sound and athletically challenging feats during each game.
Ronaldo’s pristine image makes him a highly sought after brand spokesperson. In 2016, Forbes recognised him as the highest-paid athlete globally, with revenue exceeding £800 million.
Winning both the European Championship and the World Cup gives this Italian goalkeeper, Dino Zoff, a unique distinction. Ranked third in his position, after goalies Gordon Banks and Lev Yashin, Zoff is notably one of the 100 best players of the 20th century. For 20 years, he retained the record for Series A games played: 570. At 41, Zoff was also the oldest player to participate in Series A. With precise positioning, Zoff used athleticism to dive, save, and handle the ball, maintaining composure in intense situations. By communicating effectively with his teammates, including defenders, Zoff effectively prevented scoring at the goal. In his exceptional career, he’s known as one of the most prolific shot-stopping goalies in the profession.
Making the FIFA 100, as one of the greatest footballers living, Patrick Kluivert is enjoying a stellar career in the sport. He currently serves as a youth football director at FC Barcelona, after a decade as a player, and stints managing both Jong FC Twente and Curaçao. As a player, Kluivert racked up trophies, scoring phenomenal goals. Reaching three Championships, Kluivert was a dependable, top scorer for his entire playing career. Recognised for agile play and attacking ability, his contributions to European Championship football are well-noted. Kluivert is chiefly remembered for his fast foot action and his ability to blast past defenders.
A media darling, Xavi captivated audiences throughout the world with his exceptional mid-field playing ability. One reporter called him “the best” and his performance lived up to the hype. From assists in scoring, he dominated in more than 700 career appearances. In 2008, Xavi helped Spain win silver in the European Championship for its first medal in more than 40 years. In 2012, they won, beating Italy. Xavi controlled the ball, connecting on 127 of 136 passes, a feat which many agree helps place him on a pedestal as the greatest midfielder of all time.
Gerd Muller’s intensity brought him to prominence in the game for his ability to score. An eminent player, Muller attacked the finish, securing a record-high goal ratio in relation to games played. Europe’s most prolific scorer twice and Germany’s seven times, his ability to get the ball into the goal is a direct relation to Muller’s acceleration, instincts, and agility. His frame and powerful legs allowed Muller to move at incredible speeds and change direction at the drop of a dime, making keeping pace with him a challenge for most defending teams. In 1972, Muller scored four goals during the European Championship, a prelude to his treasure-trove of championship trophies from various international competitions.
The ultimate defender, Paolo Maldini’s epic play for Italy’s AC Milan team, solidifies his place in history as an exceptional player. In fact, some experts and fans call Maldini the greatest who ever played. As a left-back, Maldini’s agile, athletic runs elevated the team’s ability to score. Quick moves on the ground and in the air, helped him to soar or quickly tackle, as necessary. Moving seamlessly between calmness and aggression to fit the pace of each game, Maldini is still known for his ability to show finesse, often choosing agility over physicality. Maldini’s style of play and contributions are forever etched on the fabric of the sport, as a five-time European Championship winner.
A versatile, elite player, Silva attacks the midfield ensuring his team’s success against virtually all competition. As a Premier League captain, Silva earned the distinction of Spain’s fourth-best scorer in history. His passing precision drives the ball down the field into scoring territory. It’s a talent, which complements Silva’s exceptional skills. Winning European Championships and a host of other tournaments reflects in Silva’s strong work ethic and outstanding playing talents.
From standing ovations to tournament championships, these elite players achieved heights young footballers only dream of attaining. Champions win by combining pure athletic ability with experience. The monetary benefit is a bonus for players who’ve dedicated their lives to accomplishing team perfection. The ultimate prize, European Championship winner, meets those players who’ve sacrificed everything for the pinnacle of success. Regardless of the nation of origin, there are similarities the greatest players share, a drive to beat the competition and the will to play past any obstacle to victory.